Novak Djokovic was put on the spot: He had just walked out to the Sportsnet Ball Hockey Challenge on Centre Court and a hockey stick was in his hands for the first time – in his life.
“OK Novak, let’s give you a breakaway,” the announcer’s voice boomed into the microphone.
Djokovic, ever the showman, didn’t disappoint, playing along and making one out of three shots on goal. (Not bad for a guy who literally just picked up a stick.) It was part of an afternoon that included NHL stars Connor McDavid, Jason Spezza and others, as well as Djokovic and a slew of ATP players for a friendly game of ball hockey.
The game ended in a 3-3 tie, and Djokovic said after it was a unique experience to try something new, and that he hoped his physio would go light on his cardio after practice. We hope so too, Nole.
The qualifying draw finished on Sunday, with seven players booking main draw spots. No. 2 seed Radek Stepanek led the way with a three-set victory over Saketh Myneni 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 6-4, while seeds Tim Smyczek, Dennis Novikov, Jared Donaldson, Ryan Harrison and Alejandro Gonzalez won through, as well.
Emilio Gomez was the lone unseeded player to make it through the qualies, upsetting No. 5 seed Austin Krajicek 6-4, 7-6(8). Qualifiers were placed into the draw Sunday evening, with Gonzalez, Gomez and Stepanek taking on seeds Bernard Tomic, Lucas Pouille and Benoit Paire, respectively.
The biggest names of Rogers Cup were put to the test in a different way on Sunday as they faced the international media. World No. 1 Djokovic, No. 3 seed Kei Nishikori, No. 4 Milos Raonic and Canada’s Vasek Pospisil all held court in the main press conference room.
Djokovic said he learns more from his losses, having taken time to reflect on his shock exit from Wimbledon earlier this month. Nishikori revealed he’s feeling fully healthy after having to retire in his Wimbledon match against Marin Cilic with a bum rib. He’s spent the last few days in California training with coach Michael Chang.
Raonic, fresh off his Wimbledon runner-up performance, said he’s looking forward to a potential semifinal showdown with Djokovic, expressing disappointment that other top stars like Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are not in attendance. “I like to face off against the best,” the Canadian No. 1 said, adding: “But the best player in the world is still here, and you have to go through him to win the title.”
— Rogers Cup Toronto (@rogerscup) July 24, 2016
The fan-friendly festivities came to a close for Pizzaville Free Community Weekend, with kids collecting as many autographs as they could, crowds packing the practice courts viewing areas and another entertaining version of the air guitar contest – with tennis rackets as guitars – taking place.
Pospisil took time out of his busy schedule for a clinic on the Promotions Court, then did Wii tennis battle (pictured above) with a few lucky youngsters, as well. Canadian teenagers Ben Sigouin, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov joined Djokovic for ball hockey, as did Top 100 residents Denis Kudla, John Millman (who was a beast in the rink) and Andrey Kuznetsov.
Sigouin, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov joined me on Rogers Cup’s Facebook Live for a chat, and we quizzed them on how well they knew each other. How did they do? Check out the video to see.
Monday the main draw kicks off, with Shapovalov taking centre stage against rising star Nick Kyrgios in the night session, followed by Canadian Frank Dancevic against Sam Querrey, the American who shocked Djokovic at Wimbledon. Have your tickets yet? They’re still available here.